“This is business. We’re all on the same team.”
Ambition. Sexual tension. Shame. Embarrassment. Betrayal. Murder. When it comes to Passion it’s clear that it’s every woman for herself.
Christine (Rachel McAdams) is an advertising executive at Koch Image International where she and assistant, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), struggle to find a new, raw angle for their latest account. When Isabelle’s idea is wildly and enthusiastically embraced by the higher-ups, it is her boss, Christine, who steps in to take all the credit. The maneuver, seen as a savagely unforgivable betrayal by Isabelle, launches the women into a sexually charged battle that won’t end well, for either of them.
When it comes to remakes, I’ve been transparent – if not downright passionate – about my feelings. Make it better or make it different, but, for the love of cinema, make it fresh or don’t bother.
When it was announced that Brian De Palma (Body Double, The Untouchables) was knee deep in his adaptation of Alain Corneau’s taut psycho-sexual thriller, Love Crime, I flinched. That Noomi Rapace was attached to the project offered some consolation, but never having been a towering fan of De Palma’s work, I still had a set of lingering reservations.
Of course, I knew that with De Palma, Passion would be in the hands of a director whose work on such films as Scarface and The Black Dahlia proves, if anything, he is a man with a particular vision. Although, hand to God, I’m still pissed at you, De Palma, for what you did to James Ellroy‘s Dahlia.
In Passion, De Palma has pulled out some of his, by now, very familiar cinematic tools and tricks to sculpt his version of a world made toxic due to ambition, drive, and competitiveness. You’ll have your share of tilt screens, expressive lighting, almost too-heavy-handed color correction, and split-screens galore – all of which any De Palma follower will immediately appreciate and cue in on. Look beyond the film’s cheeky noir vibe, though, and you’re bound to see shades of Carrie here, and of Sisters – two of De Palma’s earlier works, both of which are fraught with themes of cruelty and the struggle for power between women.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Rapace shines in Passion, even if there is a sense of the familiar about the character she plays, Isabelle. Here we have a fragile but talented young woman driven first by her need to please then by her blind, relentless obsession. Rapace again displays a staggering emotional control, lending a masterful touch to her portrayal of a woman coming unhinged. After seeing her in the role originated by Ludivine Sagnier, Rapace’s performance reminds me that it costs little to be kind to those with whom I work.
A significant, and powerful change made by De Palma was in making the lead characters closer in age. The competitiveness has a more natural feel, like the kind that might arise between siblings. This shift in the interpersonal dynamic between Christine and Isabelle helps the film focus on the occasionally poisonous dynamic between women in the workplace without also bringing in the psychological baggage of age.
With Rachel McAdams, De Palma attempts to give us a femme fatale we ultimately hate ourselves for desiring. So selfish, so self serving, so morally thin and sadistic, McAdams presents a Christine who fears – at any moment – she could be interchanged with any colleague, especially Isabelle. So hungry for power and recognition, Christine is the embodiment of everything a person could come to fear in a coworker.
A strong, palpable chemistry between Rapace and McAdams was a must for the film’s storyline to be even remotely emotionally plausible. But what may surprise you is De Palma’s addition of the Dani character (Karoline Herfurth), the equally ambitious assistant of Isabelle, whose motives and desires fuel the film’s plot as much as either of the leading women.
That De Palma restructures the end of the film stands to polarize fans of Corneau’s original, but at least he’s dared to go there.
I’m exposing a personal bias when I admit that the score, composed by longtime De Palma collaborator Pino Donaggio, is distracting and downright comical in some scenes. I want a film’s score to be understated, to elevate the performances of the cast, to lend an atmosphere and suggest emotion. Barring that, I don’t want to be taken out of the world of the film and find myself actively thinking about the music. I don’t care if you’re a genius like Philip Glass or Mark Isham, the audience came to watch the film, so please let them do so.
Performances by Rapace and Herfurth are notable despite the occasionally thin, unbelievably flat dialog they’re working with. Fans of McAdams will get a charge out of her sexually-fueled performance even if it (necessarily) feels a bit empty and staged.
Official Trailer #2:
Noomi Rapace talks about the role: